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Worldwide Prosperity and the Columbian Exchange

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    Nathan Nunn, a Canadian economist and the Frederick E. Abbe Professor of Economics at Harvard University, wrote an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives called The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas, in which he stated that “European contact enabled the transmission of diseases to previously isolated communities, which caused devastation exceeding that of even the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe. Europeans brought deadly viruses and bacteria, such as smallpox, measles, typhus, and cholera, for which Native Americans had no immunity to. On their return home, European sailors brought syphilis to Europe. The disease was known to have caused great social disruption throughout the Old World” (Nunn 164). Syphilis was the most deadly disease that was spread as a result of the Columbian Exchange; the strain that was spread was the most lethal strain which often resulted in the death of its host before the germ spread. There were horrible effects of this illness which usually occurred right after the transmission of the disease such as rashes, ulcers, extreme fevers, bone pains, and it more often than not led to death (Crosby 125). Irwin Sherman, a biology professor who taught at the University of California, stated that venereal syphilis was one of the twelve diseases that reformed the world as we know it today (Nunn 166). In addition to the devastations in Europe, the Europeans involuntarily brought diseases to the Americas which the Americans had no immunity to. This event leveled the Native American population in the early 16th century (Grennes 93).

    The exchange of goods between the Old World and the New World had a correlation to the population increase from 1650-1950 (Crosby 168). Historian Alfred Crosby supported the idea that the Columbian Exchange was needed in order to have a population outburst in the two centuries following it. This also played an important role in the Industrial Revolution because the transfer of staple foods enabled the Revolution to happen (Nunn 167). Studies show that the transfer of Old World crops and animals vastly widened the Americas ability to feed and take care of the native and alien citizens. Also at this time, Europe’s population was rapidly growing, but there were not enough supplies to nourish all of the new citizens. Although instead of depopulating the lands, they were sending people by the boatloads to live and colonize in the Americas. These increases in population were mainly the result of the increase and improvement of the food supply, which was reliant on the Columbian Exchange. Alfred W. Crosby Jr., Professor of American Studies, History and Geography at the University of Texas at Austin wrote ‘The Columbian Exchange’ in which he stated; “In such societies starvation and malnutrition are usually significant checks on the population growth; therefore, an increase in the food supply will produce an increase of people.” The new crops acquired from the Exchange permitted growth in new soils and different seasons which overall led to a larger food production, which also had correlation with the population increase (Crosby 168).

    Thomas Grennes, a Professor of Economics and Agriculture at North Carolina State University, wrote the Columbian Exchange and the Reversal of Fortune in which he stated that the Columbian Exchange was the “greatest human intervention in nature since the invention of agriculture, and it had an enormous effect on the Americas and the entire world”. Through this monumental exchange of goods, the number of cultivable plants in America doubled or tripled. Not only America got benefits, other than gaining plants and animals the Europeans brought back technology that included iron tools and wheels. Just like the Americans the Europeans increased their agricultural productivity by planting Native American crops in favorable places in the New World. Europe would be tremendously different today if it were not for the Columbian exchange, Ireland would not have potatoes, and Italy would not have pizza because there wouldn’t have been any tomatoes. These countries are known for a food item that wouldn’t have been possible without the exportation of crops during the Columbian Exchange. (Grennes 93).

    The Columbian Exchange introduced a broad spectrum of new crops high in calories to the Old World including potatoes, maize, and cassava. These were important crops from the New World primarily because they had the capability to grow in the Old World conditions. Also where these plants were cultivated, the Old World staples were not able to be grown because of unsuitable conditions. The most influential of these crops was the potato because humans can actually sustain a healthy diet on just potatoes and milk or butter because they provide the vitamins A and D which the potatoes did not. Studies conducted also show that there was a twelve percent increase in population after the introduction of the potato to the Old World. It was also theorized that after the introduction of the potato there was a forty-seven percent increase in urbanization rates (Nunn 170). This trade also sparked the exchange of foods that were lower in calories but still important in the world today. These foods include vanilla, tomatoes, tobacco, and cacao. Tomatoes, for example, are a supreme source of vitamins A and C, they provide more nutrients to the human body than any other fruit or vegetable, and there has also been proven health benefits from eating tomatoes. Without the Columbian Exchange, we would have not had these foods which are important to everyday life and health. It was not just coincidental that Old World plants flourished in the New World and New World plants flourished in the Old World, the different species of plants and animals evolutionized in different climates and how to control certain pests. But when relocated the plants were able to escape the pests and rodents that had coevolved with them in their previous location (178).

    In the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries the Columbian Exchange brought detrimental effects to Europe and the Americas, such as the European sailors who brought syphilis back to you Europe after their voyage to the New World or when the Europeans involuntarily brought diseases to the Americas where the Native Americans had no immunity to (Nunn 164). These events were tragic and decreased the population at the time, but the Columbian Exchange had more positive effects in the long term of civilization. For example, studies have shown that the exchange of goods between the Old World and the New World had a correlation to the population increase from 1650-1950 (Crosby 168). Also, the transfer of crops and animals between these worlds gave the Americas the ability to feed and care for their native and alien citizens. This was possible because the number of cultivable plants doubled or tripled in the Americas through the vast exchange. The Columbian Exchange not only benefitted the New World, but crops high in calories were introduced to the Old World from the New World which helped the diets of the Europeans (Grennes 93). These points back up the inference that the Columbian Exchange had detrimental effects in Europe and America but had more positive effects in the long term of civilization.

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